Egypt Prepares To Elect Sisi

by Jonah Shepp

Anna Newby sums up the state of play in the lead-up to next week’s presidential election in Egypt, whose outcome has already been determined:

The country’s upcoming presidential contest will pit the former head of the Egyptian Armed Forces, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, against leftist politician and dissident Hamdeen Sabahi. Sisi promises firm leadership, security, and the close regulation of protests. Sabahi stands for social justice, Arab unity, and an independent foreign policy.

Opinion polls show Sisi far ahead. The most recent survey, conducted by the Egyptian Center for Public Opinion Research (Baseera) in March, found that 72 percent of respondents would vote for Sisi and only 2 percent had chosen Sabahi. The remaining quarter reported to be undecided. Sisi is effectively the “president-in-waiting,” as Egypt expert Nathan Brown writes.

Ursula Lindsey notices that Sisi’s “campaign” has opted for sentimentality over specifics:

El Sisi prefers to wax poetic about the extraordinary personal qualities of the Egyptian people, and his boundless love for them, rather than to address specific policy questions. He is clearly well-aware of his popularity with women, which he constantly plays to (although he seems incapable of imagining working women — his idealized Egyptian Woman is adamantly domestic, anxiously watching over her home and wisely encouraging her man to action outside it).

El Sisi is charismatic; he is also terribly aware of it. He radiates self-regard. His soft-spoken delivery is that of a man never used to being interrupted. But his veneer of kindliness and patience rubs off awfully quickly, the moment he is challenged. The unspoken message of his entire campaign is that he is actually above competing for the position — it is already rightfully his, and he is accepting it as a patriotic sacrifice.

Dov Zakheim suggests that we use the election as an opportunity to “reinvigorate” our relationship with Egypt, which he points out is “a long-standing and reliable ally” with or without democracy:

Those who argue that Egypt does not fully adhere to Western democratic standards should recognize that many other American allies in the region have far less open societies. Moreover, given the tumultuous recent past that has disrupted their lives, Egyptians, like most people, yearn for stability. Stability means, first and foremost, security, a roof over people’s heads and food in their bellies, an education, and a future for their children. Stability and democracy are not necessarily synonymous; stability, even more than a vibrant civil society, is a precondition for true democracy. While democracy can function in an unstable environment, even where there is a functioning civil society, it will always struggle. Pakistan, for example, has an active civil society. Yet one hardly would call it stable and accordingly, in light of its history of military coups, and the challenge of Islamic extremists, the longer term prospects for its current democratic governance are far from assured.

Meanwhile, Eric Trager checks up on the hopelessly deadlocked efforts at reconciliation between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military government:

While the Brotherhood often downplays its demand that Morsi return to power, it still emphasizes the restoration of “legitimacy,” which effectively means the same thing. “The return of Morsi, continuing his rule, is not what we want,” Mohamed Touson, a former Brotherhood parliamentarian and a member of Morsi’s legal team, told me, before adding: “Morsi should come back just to take the decision for new elections and leave office.”  The Brotherhood is also demanding “transitional justice”a phrase that Brotherhood leaders deliberately borrowed from post-apartheid South Africa, but then stripped of its conciliatory significance. …

The military’s demands are similarly non-starters for the Brotherhood. According to Emad Abdel Ghafour, a former Morsi adviser who serves as a liaison between the Brotherhood and top generals, the military is willing to release all but 300 of the Muslim Brothers that have been arrested. On paper, this is a major concession, because it would mean that over 10,000 detained Muslim Brothers could go home. But the 300 Muslim Brothers whom the military wants to keep imprisoned are likely top leaders, and given the Brotherhood’s hierarchical command-chain, this would mean accepting its own decapitation.